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Tuesday, 1 January 2013



Palma de Mallorca
On a Trip to Mallorca,
Our Correspondent Stays at a German Hotel.
Along the Way, He Encounters
Michael Douglas' Restaurant.
Who Knew?


By Eric Staples
[Writers Clearinghouse News Service]
Author’s note: It is probably useful to know that I am an airline employee. This means that I fly for free (along with my wife, Grace), but only if seats are available on a particular flight. Anyway, this information helps to explain the reason that I do not make solid travel plans; rather, my vacations are almost entirely contingent upon which destinations have flights with open seats during the general period I am looking to travel. Grace and I live in South Philadelphia and travel as often as we are able , which is not often enough for either of us.
Making Plans & … Well, Making Different Plans
We were going to Curaçao (my brain makes airport codes: CUR). It was decided. I was on vacation and my wife was on Spring Break and it was going to be her birthday and we were going to relax on the alabaster beaches like adults do and it was decided. We never decide ahead of time. Here we were, five days out from the start of our break, and I had already asked people about Curaçao, looked at hotels and read about what to do on this little island off the coast of Venezuela. These concepts (planning and such) are entirely alien to me and, to a certain extent, represent a hostile affront to all that I believe traveling to be about. Every trip I schedule involves a day-of-departure change in cardinal direction, at a minimum, and typically a resulting change in continents. However, I am an airline employee and she is not and I have been advised by more than one friend that I —and not the rest of the population, as I naturally assumed — am the alien. This is disappointing news, to say the least.

So, here we were. It was Saturday, and we’d awakened with designs of making the first flight to Aruba (AUA), where we would catch a ten-seater on Insel to take us the 75 miles to Curaҫao. For no reason whatsoever, something just didn’t seem right. Curaҫao seemed to me a lovely place and had done nothing to me in the five hours I’d been asleep, but I just wasn’t that excited anymore. I was suddenly stricken by a vision of college kids on Spring Break, and all the terrible noise they would be making (based on MTV broadcasts of these events from my childhood, of course—not anything I’d actually witnessed). Suddenly, I was lost. This is how it happens...every time:

These places on airbandb.com for places to stay in Curaҫao (CUR) look pretty boring. Oh, look. Morocco. Remember we were looking at renting a riad (a Moroccan house or palace that contains an interior garden) that time and found it to be criminally inexpensive? Casablanca (CMN) in the Spring sounds decent enough. Wait. What’s Ceuta (JCU)? Why does Spain own two pieces of land in Morocco? I bet that’s an interesting place to visit. But it’s Spain, though. Hmmm...Spain. Granada (GRX)? Grace has never been to Spain. No. We’ll never get there or back, because of Semana Santa in Seville (SVQ) and even Granada. I could take her to Valencia (VLC) and see some friends I lived with there. Oh, Mallorca, sitting out there off the coast...interesting...never been there. It’s a tourist nightmare, but not yet. Too early in the year. How can we get there? Iberia out of Barcelona (BCN)? How does the BCN flight look? Open. Seats up front, too. What about the return? Open. Back-up for Iberia? Air Europa. OK. Let’s look at some pictures of Mallorca to see if I want to go there. “Hey, Grace! What about Mallorca?”
Voodoo & Mistaken Identity
So, we pack and we’re off to the airport. I head over to the “Employee Travel” specialist there at the end of the Ticket Counter to pick up some Zeds” (heavily discounted employee tickets for other carriers). There is a problem. The Iberia trip won’t ticket. I try some voodoo, but the system is stubbornly opposed to helping me. Our flight is boarding from A12 in about five minutes, so I give up. We’ll be all right with Air Europa, I reason. Flying into BCN is pretty amazing. The city (at least from above, and a slight distance) appears to have been fashioned entirely out of sand. Everything is a sunburned brown and very, very old. Unfortunately, we won’t be in the city this time. We will make our way over to the Air Europa departure gate, get the last two seats on the flight, and head to Mallorca.
We fly into Palma de Mallorca (PMI), which is the Capital and only relatively modern city on the island. No time for a visit now, but we’ll be back. We pick up a rental car and head to the hotel, which is about 20 miles up the coast. The highway is surprisingly well-constructed and well-maintained, by island standards. We zoom through the countryside and to our exit, and we make our way through Peguera to the hotel. The place is full of Germans. The proprietor of the hotel is obviously not German, but his German is flawless and his Spanish is embarrassingly and inexplicably poor. Turns out he’s Turkish. Everyone staying in the place is German, and everyone in the “award-winning” restaurant is German. Mallorca, it turns out, is the German tourist destination.
Every country in Northern Europe has a place along the Mediterranean that they are partial to invading—the English like to welt Spain’s Costa del Sol with their soggy, pink tourists and barkeeps; Croatia is riddled with Russians who seem suspiciously intent on compromising the structural integrity of Dubrovnik’s medieval fortress walls. Anyway, Mallorca is full of Germans, to the extent that menus and specials boards in local restaurants take a German-Spanish-English priority for their culinary listings. This is fine, I suppose, for most. Unfortunately for me, Germans think that I look German (as the Irish, Scottish, French, Danish and Dutch are equally confident in claiming me as one of their own), which leads to their insistence that I speak German. I do not. I actually have a viscerally negative reaction even to hearing German spoken. This invariably leads to an uncomfortable number of exchanges that sound like this:
German person: “Hvekischederminglefunkderlingenhansderfunf.”
Me: “I don’t speak German.”
German person: “Schlengenbrunsterkerlinghunfinckenmullerschteinzlagen?”
Me: “Dude, I don’t know what you’re saying, and I know you speak English. I’m
sorry. I should speak your language, but I don’t. Can we stop this?”
German person: “Neindeschenklengbengenlangerschleibenflufengellenschleibenhumler.”
Me: “Whatever.”
Nice Digs & Driving in Circles
Our journey to Mallorca can, to a large extent, be encapsulated by detailing one day’s activity. We did some variation of this each day, so you won’t miss much.
The hotel itself was fairly nice. I don’t require much in the way of creature comforts, so it takes something really awful for me to complain. There is a delightful garden in the courtyard, and after a single night in a cramped room we found out that we had been placed in there because the owner’s wife thought we were an obnoxious German couple (see?) that had called and made some unreasonable requests, so she moved us the second day and extended a totally unnecessary apology. When we met the couple, we understood her motives.
After breakfast the second day, we looked at a map of the island that was fixed to one of the tables, and decided that we should head north and west. Mallorca is very mountainous, and the peaks on the northern end of the island stretch a mile into the clouds. This appeals to me more than to Grace, who is afraid of heights, but it promises to be a scenic drive highlighted by stops in small hill towns and down to the coastal bays. We walk out to the car and we are on our way.
I’m going to pause here, and ask that you afford me a slightly off-topic consideration: Like most Mediterranean islands, Mallorca is lousy with roundabouts—traffic circles, rotaries, or whatever you want to call them. They’re ridiculous. This might be the only thing that sends me into a self-righteously American tirade when I travel. I feel like we’ve pretty well wrangled the necessary nuisance of intersecting roads in this country. For the most part, we employ a simple cross formation, regulated by either a stop sign or a traffic light and a little human decency. This allows cars moving in four different directions to navigate successfully to one of three continuing options, and it seldom results in anything worse than one driver feeling as though another driver proceeded out of turn, which might lead to some short-lived rant and a series of wild gesticulations that run the gamut from obscene to downright silly. However, the roundabout (found also in disappointingly substantial numbers in the state just east of us—just another reason to carve New Jersey off and send it back to England) ravages the order and civility of the standard intersection and leaves only chaos and, to the foreigner, panic. It took me a solid three days in Malta to figure out how to confidently negotiate one of these hideous tilt-a-whirls. Here is the only tip you need: Go! Just go. Otherwise, you will be stationed indefinitely at your little post, waiting for the ceaseless stream of vehicles to take a breath. This will not happen. I know what you’re thinking—”What if I don’t know which way I need to go?” This is a good question, because the exits are typically labeled with the equivalent of a cocktail napkin, scribbled on illegibly in a language you can’t read and stapled to the end of a baseball bat. My advice is to treat the circle like a conveyance, and allow it to carry you around and around until you can identify your particular path (you will be wrong, by the way), and then let it sling you in that direction. Just try not to hit anything. This is the principle I allow to guide me when driving in a different country: “For the most part, people don’t want to get into a car accident. They will therefore mirror your efforts to avoid hitting them.”
Lazy on Vacation & Making Movies
The driving in Mallorca is relatively easy, as it happens. Even the narrow, winding roads up, around and through the mountains have guard walls to keep you from careening into the picaresque valleys. Everywhere are tiny houses, perched atop hills and seemingly quarantined from civilization. I imagined that this is where Spain sent their lepers. Periodically, we had to brake for mountain goats (real-life, wild mountain goats!) or sheep or other charming farm animals crossing the streets, and every few dozen miles there was a beautiful town that we wanted to stop and visit. We did this only once, in Valldemosa, which is home to a restaurant owned by Michael Douglas. One knows this because there is a 10x15 foot sign on the side of the main street featuring the actor’s giant, aging face and, begrudgingly, advertising the food offered in the establishment. The only other obstacle we encountered during the day was an alarming number of cyclists in corporate-logoed spandex uniforms, whipping down the mountains around blind curves four-abreast at 60mph or climbing, murderously slowly, up the 15% incline on the other side. We decided that this is where people train for the Tour de France or, I would learn weeks later from my cyclist friend, the Tour de Spain. Good for them. Way to make me feel lazy on vacation. Really, though, they kept to themselves and we hardly noticed them apart from an occasional monochromatic blur.
After an exhausting day of driving and seeing spectacularly blue waters lapping alternately against cliffs or sandy beaches, we decided to test our luck with the hotel restaurant, which had received high marks from the locals. I had a Mallorcan delicacy, unromantically called rabbit stew, and Grace had vegetarian paella (a crime which, on the mainland, I am certain carries a twenty-year sentence). The restaurant was outstanding, as advertised. One odd thing of note: Through the speakers for the duration of our dinner blasted a bizarre and gratuitous recording of famous songs ruinously resurrected on the organ. It was pretty surreal. At one point, “Apologize” by OneRepublic (“It’s too late to apologiiiiiize...it’s too laaaaaaaaaaaaaaate…”) came on, and it proved a distractingly preposterous rendition. This inspired a brainstorm of the only possible function for the song:, which should be read in your best movie-preview-guy voice:
In his prime, Buster Love was a once-in-a-generation talent whose name was synonymous with the Phillies and the Vet (Be-mulleted fans in Philadelphia’s infamous Veteran’s Stadium rocking to crazy-good organ play, chanting “Buster! Buster!”). Until one night, when his world came crashing down on him. (Buster opens the door to his mansion to find Muse, his girlfriend, in the arms of Darren Dalton.) “But...I thought you loved me! Come on, Dutch!” Since then (Scene of Buster playing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” for the Scranton/Wilkes Barre Red Barons), Buster is lucky if a single person notices his work—actually, he’s not even that lucky. “Yo, organ guy! You’re the worst!” Until one man recognizes the old Buster. “Excuse me, but didn’t you used to be Buster Love?” “Whatever, man. Buster’s dead.” Can their friendship bring Buster back to his beloved Phils, and to the big time? (Montage of Buster working out, listening to newer music and walking in to Citizen’s Bank Park.) “Man, I can’t believe I let you talk me into this. They’re never gonna win anything, new stadium or wherever.” Now, he’s back. His team is back. Everything is falling back into place. Until one night… (Buster hears Muse’s voice behind him.) “Buster?” (Buster is devastated, and falls into a panic.) “What are you doing here?” Can he keep it together, or will he crash and burn all over again? (The stadium gets quiet, the players stop and look up, and the camera pans around to Muse’s face in the stands, as Buster wails away on the organ, playing an impossibly funky version of “Too Late to Apologize”).
Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly and Mila Kunis
(Scenes of the Phillies making a run at their 2008 World Series title)
In theatres everywhere this Summer .